(The Canadian Press)

Mixed messages: Ottawa, Moe differ on Indigenous ceremonies during pandemic

Indigenous community leaders know what needs to be done to keep people safe, PM says

Saskatchewan’s premier says First Nations are receiving mixed messages after Canada’s Indigenous services minister said sacred ceremonies would be allowed to continue despite restrictions put in place due to COVID-19.

“No one should be exempt from these health orders because, quite frankly, no one is exempt from the virus,” Scott Moe said Thursday afternoon.

Concern about ceremonies surfaced after RCMP were dispatched to a Saskatchewan First Nation where people were holding a sun-dance ceremony last weekend. Organizers said they worried important traditions were being pushed back underground.

A federal ban on Indigenous ceremonies and potlatches came into place in 1884 and lasted until the 1950s. Minister Marc Miller said earlier Thursday that banning sacred ceremonies is a “dark stain” on the country’s history.

“Even in the face of a historic pandemic, Canada must not and will not prohibit these important practices,” Miller said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Indigenous community leaders know what needs to be done to keep people safe.

“We should be able to work with them to develop ways of continuing with important customs and practices for them in a way that abides by health recommendations,” he said.

Saskatchewan RCMP said they received two reports of a large public gathering on the Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation, about 90 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, on Sunday.

There were 35 people taking part in the ceremony, but attendees said they were following precautions set by the chief and council, including social distancing and having temperatures taken.

A public-health order in Saskatchewan limits gatherings to 10 people.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, has said provincial public-health orders do not supersede First Nations laws and treaties.

Indigenous Services Canada did not clarify who has jurisdiction to enforce provincial public-health orders on First Nations. Spokesperson Leslie Michelson said in an email that First Nations leaders are encouraged to consider public-health guidelines and the department respects measures put in place by chiefs and councils.

Miller said First Nations leadership will ultimately decide whether to go ahead with ceremonies and how to do it.

Moe, however, said there should be no exceptions, since everyone relies on the provincial health system.

“With respect to the comments of the minister, as well as Indigenous Services themselves, around these particular events being exempt from public health orders — that simply cannot be the case,” Moe said.

There were 185 positive cases of COVID-19 on First Nations reserves as of Wednesday, with 43 of them in Saskatchewan.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Indigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

No active confirmed COVID-19 cases in Interior Health: BCCDC

Numbers from the BCCDC’s dashboard show 193 of the 195 COVID-19 cases in the region have recovered

RDEK urges residents to be prepared for emergencies including flooding, wildfire

The East Kootenay region has been placed on a high streamflow advisory

RDCK closes all indoor recreational facilities until at least August 18

The district said closures are necessary to meet financial plan and to deliver safe programming

Flooding: Why the RDCK ordered hundreds of properties evacuated

All evacuation orders have now been rescinded

22 new COVID-19 test-positives, one death following days of low case counts in B.C.

Health officials urged British Columbians to ‘stand together while staying apart’

Nelson counsellor works online with university students in central Asia during pandemic

Robin Higgins is home from her job in Tajikistan because of COVID-19

New study is first full list of species that only exist in Canada

Almost 40 per cent of them are critically imperilled or imperilled and eight are already extinct

Angel Flight takes flight from Creston after being grounded by COVID-19

Angel Flight is a volunteer-run organization which gives people flights to doctors appointments

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

Nature Conservancy takes in more lands near Canal Flats

Badgers, bears and birds to benefit from bolstering bunchgrass conservation in Rocky Mountain Trench

Federal aid for care home systems needed ahead of second wave, advocates say

Ontario Long Term Care Association calling for more action

B.C. woman, 26, fatally shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Police were conducting a well-being check at the time of the incident

Most Read